Responding to Hurricane Harvey: struggles, successes and steps ahead

Responding to Hurricane Harvey: struggles, successes and steps ahead

September 4, 2017

Twelve days ago, Harvey had only begun its destructive journey, it’s growing strength captured in distant satellite images. But there is nothing distant about the destructive footprint a natural disaster leaves for the people who live in its path. Over the years, our team has experienced the profound and multifaceted ways a natural disaster impacts people’s lives – especially on their health.

On August 29, we activated for what has become the longest activation in Healthcare Ready’s history. Each day since, our team has worked to mitigate Harvey’s destructive force over the regions in the gulf of Texas and address urgent health needs.

As Harvey broke U.S. tropical cyclone rain records, we saw a different kind of deluge – an incredible level of responsiveness and support among our public and private sector partners. With each urgent call we’ve received on our hotline, our federal/state government partners have shared critical information, non-profit organizations on the front-lines have helped direct resources to the most needy areas, and our private sector partners have consistently answered “YES, we can do that!” when we’ve asked for resources and assistance.

Together, we are making a difference, acting as a partner to on the ground NGO’s like AmeriCares, Direct Relief International, Humanity Road, the American Red Cross, our private sector organizations like CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, major distributors of supplies such as AmerisourceBergen, McKesson, Cardinal Health and our public friends DHS, FEMA, and HHS.

We helped facilitate medication delivery to patients with acute health needs, donations to areas and facilities experiencing shortage and vulnerability, communicated with emergency staff, directing them safely to high-capacity shelters, responded to organizational, health personnel and individual patient requests for critical health supplies to name a few response efforts. This work has translated into air transport for medical supplies provided by a pharmaceutical manufacturer, insulin reaching community health clinics, safe dry-land and boat transports of patients urgently needing dialysis, mobile pharmacies and medical units reaching those awaiting care in shelters.

Some of our long-standing struggles persist. Emergency response staff still faces barriers in gaining access to affected areas to reach and aid victims. Policy makers still miss opportunities to assist their citizens. Texas still has not requested that the federal government activate Emergency Prescription Assistance Program (EPAP), a program which would enable uninsured individuals to access healthcare. This is critical, at a time when injury from floodwater contact is common, medication was likely left home, risks for infection and disease are high. Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured individuals and the disaster response community and disaster victims are left scrambling to cope.

While we have a long road ahead in the Harvey recovery, what I’ve seen over the last 12 days from HcR’s “war room” is that, when it comes to responding to a disaster, our nation’s capabilities have indeed improved. In important ways, all stakeholders are applying the lessons from Katrina, Sandy and other natural disasters, to better serve those affected by unfathomable destruction. As people consider going or finding home and rebuilding lives, we stand ready to address major public health and healthcare concerns in Texas.

To all assisting in the effort, I ask you to remember that many Harvey evacuees urgently need access to their regular prescription medications. PLEASE share the resources we offer - call Healthcare Ready at 1-866-247-2694 for assistance, or visit Healthcare Ready's Rx Open for a live map of open/closed pharmacies in areas affected by Harvey.

Nicolette Louissaint, Ph.D.

Dr. Nicolette A. Louissaint is the Executive Director of Healthcare Ready. Prior to this position, Nicolette served as the organization's Director of Programming. Before joining Healthcare Ready Nicolette served as a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs. During the height of the Ebola Epidemic of 2014, Nicolette served as the Senior Advisor to the State Department’s Special Coordinator for Ebola.